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Even though the developed world is experiencing historic job growth and low unemployment, competition for the most competitive positions remains strong. Google and Microsoft are said to receive two million applications every year, while institutions like JPMorgan Chase receive tens of thousands.
While these and a rising number of other companies emphasize the importance of vital soft skills like emotional intelligence, resilience, and learnability as drivers of performance, the most in-demand occupations require graduate credentials, which are far exceeding current supply levels. Consider this: there are over 500,000 open I.T. positions but only 50,000 new I.T. grads each year.
Simultaneously, the number of persons enrolling in university is increasing, thereby devaluing the undergraduate degree. In the United States, one-third of adults are college graduates, up from 4.6 percent in the 1940s.
According to UNESCO, the number of students acquiring a university diploma has more than doubled globally in the last 20 years.
With this data in mind, it’s simple to see why an increasing number of workers are considering graduate school. The number of postgraduate students in the United States has tripled since the 1970s, and according to some estimates, 27% of companies now require master’s degrees for occupations that previously required only an undergraduate degree.
Despite those facts, an increasing number of students are unsure whether they should attend graduate school immediately following graduation. Should they wait till they have some work experience and travel under their belts before going? Or, should they forget about graduate school?
Students must carefully examine their objectives and then work methodically to achieve them. Graduate school is not a sprint. It is a marathon. The real journey begins as soon as they decide to seek a graduate degree.
Students should have a comprehensible career goal and realistic expectations of what they can achieve when joining a graduate school, whether right after graduation or after a break from school. This post doesn’t suggest that those things can’t change (they almost certainly will!), but they’ll have difficulty getting started without them. Students will have a more challenging time excelling in graduate school.
If you want to become a professor, conduct some research to see how many employment openings are available in your field at any given time. Consider the differences between job postings and PhDs conferred in the discipline of history, for example. It is not to cast you down from considering a graduate school; instead, it emphasizes how crucial it will be to stand out in a competitive employment market.
You should also perform detailed job placement research for the programs you’re considering. Many programs include job placement information on their websites; if one does not, you should investigate!
If a program has a poor track record of putting PhDs in tenure-track posts, it might not be the appropriate path for you if that is your ultimate aim. Take the time to gain more job or field experience to be a competitive candidate for a program with higher placement rates. It might be the difference between being broke to being a success in your chosen career.
Everyone should also have realistic expectations about how to achieve their goal.
Because PhDs and master’s degrees are, by definition, specialized, there won’t be many job openings in your field when you’re looking for work. Even if the school offers you a tenure-track position, you will almost certainly have to relocate after you take it.
A tenure-track position may not be in your future if you’re bound to a specific geographic place due to family obligations or personal preferences.
You’d probably have an easier time finding adjunct roles in your location, but they don’t always come with a livable salary, job security, or health insurance. Make it clear what you’re ready to sacrifice to land a tenure-track position, and then adapt your ambitions accordingly.
If you choose to work in industry (for example, government, pharmaceuticals, data science, nonprofits, or research institutes), you’ll have more possibilities following graduation. On the other hand, long-term planning is essential—and a product of the same mindset that will secure your graduate school success.
Begin by identifying a few potential employers—places where you’d like to work one day.
Examine their websites for job openings. Check out what the requirements are for the positions you want to hold. Look up current employees on LinkedIn to see how their careers have progressed. Did they take a break between their undergraduate and graduate studies? If that’s the case, what did they do with that time? If not, did they get any work experience while in graduate school?
Set up informational interviews with people who work in positions that you would be interested in, and ask them how they got from where they are now to where they want to be.
The Not-So-Nice Truth About Grad School
Graduate programs frequently expect students to be self-starters. If problems persist, your thesis supervisors will not contact you. Instead, you’ll need to keep track of your courses and get with the people with whom you need to communicate when problems emerge.
When it comes to graduate research, you may work with a faculty member as your thesis advisor, but no one but you can point you in the right direction when it comes to developing research. During your graduate school journey, you are the captain of your ship.
To make matters worse, the professor from whom you most want to learn from may dislike you in certain circumstances.
Despite meeting various teachers, you will eventually settle on one you want to learn from because of their consistency, craft, and teaching style. The disadvantage is that not everyone will like you, which is fine. After all, you can always look for other faculty members who are prepared to assist you with a particular topic.
Furthermore, you will encounter various people in graduate school, each with a unique viewpoint on life. You’ll probably have a hard time talking to your coworkers or peers about the very thing you disagree with. Grad school teaches you to be more flexible in your approach and see things from a fresh perspective as a result.
Here’s the truth that many will only reluctantly admit: there are real roadblocks—adversity that prevents a student from pursuing their degree. And then there are excuses: knee-jerk responses from students asked about their plans for the future.
While it is simple to sympathize with students who face unusual circumstances, it is more difficult to empathize with students who use a specious justification to avoid pursuing higher education. There are, however, good reasons to avoid graduate school, and here are a few of them:
It Warps Your Expectations
Graduate students develop excessive expectations, which swing from one ridiculous extreme to the next over a long period in graduate school. They go from having realistic expectations to having unrealistic expectations (and accepting them).
Although not everyone goes to graduate school intending to become a professor, it soon becomes evident that an academic job is the only one for which graduate school prepares anyone.
Graduate students begin to picture a future in which they have employment similar to those of their mentors and the other professors who surround them every day once this knowledge sinks in. They can cling to this expectation for a long time. It appears to be completely regular, even modest, but it is far from reality.
It’s possible to claim that it’s completely unrealistic. You will almost certainly not get hired for a tenure-track academic position, no matter how talented or accomplished you are.
Even the most hopeful graduate students must face reality at some point. They observe what happens to others in the academic job market before beginning to go through it themselves. At this point, their optimism can turn to desperation, and their expectations plummet, compelling them to accept college teaching jobs for meager pay.
They’ve been driven into adjunct status by graduate school, and they’ve quickly learned to accept incredibly little pay in exchange for their labor.
Adjunct professors are frequently paid less to teach a class than their students pay to enroll in it. A part-time adjunct’s pay is often less than half of that of a teaching assistant.
By visiting the Chronicle Data website, you can see how low adjunct earnings are. Of course, this type of academic work comes with no job security, insurance, or retirement benefits.
Why are individuals willing to go through this, including thousands of people with doctorates? Because they are at a loss about what to do. They are trying to stay in the academic game after years of living in a fantasy.
Debt Will Sink You
The ROI for some graduate school programs is obvious, but there is much variation. Finding a program that is guaranteed to increase your income in the short term might be complex, especially if you want to study something you enjoy.
An MBA, for example, is still the most popular graduate school program in the United States and is more likely to boost your earning potential than a master’s in climate change. However, if climate change is your true passion, you may flourish and have a more rewarding long-term career, but you may struggle financially in the short term.
The continuous rise in graduate school debt has resulted in serious equality issues. For one thing, graduate school has the potential to undermine the ability of bachelor’s degrees to facilitate intergenerational mobility.
Bachelor’s degree holders normally have significant economic mobility, implying that the prospects of reaching financial success are independent of socioeconomic background.
This pattern, however, isn’t always true for graduate degree holders whose background significantly impacts mobility—particularly men. In this respect, grad school can sabotage all of undergraduate education’s efforts to increase mobility!
Did you know that graduate loan terms aren’t as ideal as they are for undergraduates? A dependent student may borrow no more than $31,000 over your college career, and a financially independent adult may borrow no more than $57,500.
On the other hand, graduate students can borrow $20,500 per year and a total of $138,500 under a single loan program.
If you require additional funds, you can use the Grad PLUS program. This program allows students to borrow up to the entire cost of attendance paid by the college.
As a result, roughly a fifth of graduate students borrowed more than the lifetime maximum for dependent undergraduates in just one year of graduate school. This includes slightly under 70% of borrowers who want to pursue a professional degree in law or medicine.
Moreover, federal graduate loans have higher interest rates than undergraduate loans. Graduate loans have a 1.55% higher average interest rate than undergraduate loans for the 2019-2020 school year. On the other hand, Grad PLUS loans have a 2.55% higher interest rate than undergraduate loans.
Graduate loans also do not qualify for interest subsidies, which are available for around half of the undergraduate loans and reimburse any interest accrued while the borrower is in school or during the first several years of IDR. On top of it all, the Grad PLUS loans have an origination cost of almost 4%.
So, if you aren’t passionate about the subject you’re studying enough to go into debt for a few years, it may not be worth the risk!
The Job Prospects Are Not Great
Even though poor academic preparation and encouragement to attend college are based partly on the assumption that all desirable occupations require a college education, although those with graduate degrees earn more on average, it is simple to misinterpret these figures.
For starters, these averages hide many variations. Graduate degrees are not always profitable. Much satisfying employment, such as building trades, clerical and administrative support, auto and airplane maintenance, financial services, printing, graphics, and many government and social services, do not require these degrees.
For example, machinists, tool and die makers, union electricians, and sheet metal workers have in-demand skills, excellent benefits, acceptable working conditions, and yearly wages that frequently reach $45,000 by the age of 28 (and are much higher with overtime).
Second, while today’s typical job requires higher skills than in the past (when many jobs required only physical strength), the skills necessary for these jobs are high school-level skills— reading, writing, and math at a ninth-grade level, not college-level skills.
Similarly, many decent occupations (those that pay enough to support a family and provide room for promotion) require high school-level skills, such as four years of English and arithmetic through Algebra II.
Unfortunately, more than 40% of high school seniors do not have ninth-grade arithmetic skills, and 60% do not have ninth-grade reading skills. To earn a decent career, students do not need to go to college, but they need to master high school-level skills.
Mastering these abilities in high school correlates to increased wages in the long run: A one-letter rise in high school grade point average is related to a 13 percent increase in earnings by age 28 for youth without a college diploma! That’s almost as big as the salary disparity associated with a bachelor’s degree, which is a little over 14% higher than non-college graduates.
Students with solid high school skills are better prepared for entry-level jobs and have more opportunities for advancement.
Third, employers say that many positions are critical for non-academic abilities, such as punctuality, diligence, and social competence. Even after controlling for background characteristics and academic achievement, students’ educational attainment and earnings nine years after high school graduation are significantly related to their non-cognitive behaviors. High schools can teach these skills just as well in colleges.
Fourth, having a solid job after high school can be more lucrative than pursuing a college degree for some low-achieving high school kids. Only approximately 14% of students with C averages or lower in high school receive a college diploma.
Those who receive a BAB.A. out of these low-GPA high school students earn 4.3 percent more than those who do not, but this is less than one-third of the extra earnings that an average college graduate earns.
Those who get an AAA.A. with a low high school GPA will typically earn 7.2 percent less than high school graduates without a college diploma.
In terms of future earnings, the great majority of kids who do poorly in high school would be better off getting an excellent job than attending college. However, their capacity to learn about these careers, prepare for them, and land them is heavily reliant on the support they receive from their high school.
Indeed, vocational teachers claim to assist students in obtaining employment, even those from underprivileged backgrounds or with disabilities. They can do so because they give companies reliable information on students’ social skills and work habits.
About 9% of high school graduates who want to work get jobs after graduation through school-based job placement (mostly from vocational teachers). By the age of 28, these students had earned 17 percent more than students who found their careers after high school.
High-Paying Jobs that do not need a Graduate Degree
Median Salary: $68,230
Unemployment Rate: 3.1 percent
Expected Job Openings: 94,600
Median Salary: $49,710
Unemployment Rate: 2.8 percent
Expected Job Openings: 42,000
Median Salary: $95,080
Unemployment Rate: 2.1 percent
Expected Job Openings: 27,400
Median Salary: $95,290
Unemployment Rate: 3.2 percent
Expected Job Openings: 92,900
Median Salary: $127,830
Unemployment Rate: 2.8 percent
Expected Job Openings: 34,000
Your Mental Health May Suffer
According to a recent Harvard study, graduate students are more than three times as likely as ordinary Americans to suffer from mental health issues and depression. The study polled over 500 economics students from eight prestigious colleges and found that one in ten students had suicidal thoughts over two weeks.
The findings are consistent with previous recent studies. While some may find these findings frightening, for a current graduate student, some may find them to be unsurprising.
Doctoral students are sometimes lumped in with undergraduates or students in professional schools such as law or medicine. The reality is that their lifestyles and work environments are vastly different.
Furthermore, online graduate students’ mental health difficulties can be significantly worse than those who have in-person or hybrid classes. They may feel more isolated on campus and have less support for mental health at their schools.
Many graduate students’ mental health has suffered due to the pandemic, social isolation, and Zoom fatigue. Systemic unfairness, racism, and civil instability can all contribute to increased stress and anxiety.
Academic stress, financial stress, future worry, and conflicts with friends and family can make it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork. Unfortunately, not all institutions offer campus mental health resources to assist distance learners in dealing with these issues.
According to research conducted in the fall of 2020, the COVID-19 epidemic has caused 71 percent of college students to experience increased stress and worry. People are affected by stress in various ways, including intrusive thoughts, sleeping problems, and difficulty concentrating.
Many researchers believe that mental health is the most significant barrier to academic performance. On the other hand, mental health concerns can harm one’s self-esteem, physical health, and overall well-being.
You May Be Putting Off Real Life
If you’re merely searching for a way to avoid getting a full-time job, getting an advanced degree may not be the best option.
Graduate school is a difficult period – and to excel, you must be passionate about your subject. Grad school is demanding and demands a great deal of study, research, and writing. Though you will likely have fewer courses in graduate school than you did as an undergraduate, you should also anticipate having less free time than you did during your undergraduate years.
Most grad school work is done outside of the classroom; thus, your burden is far higher than your scant class calendar suggests. Grad school will put your time management abilities to the test, primarily if you work and study simultaneously. The basic conclusion is that graduate school will eat up a lot of your time, leaving you short on energy and focus in areas you would not expect.
While graduate school provides opportunities for personal development, it also comes at a cost. Expect to see less of your life partner if you’re in a relationship. This could be the best time for your partner to start a new hobby, reconnect lapsed friendships, train for a marathon, begin writing a novel, or do anything time-consuming.
If you have children, you’ll need to adjust your timetable and family support structure to accommodate your studies. And grad school isn’t the best time to get married or start a family—are you ready to wait a few years?
Part-time grad school can alleviate these time constraints, but it comes at the cost of being a student for a more extended amount of time overall.
Dreadful Academic Conferences
The largest academic conferences, with thousands of attendees and hundreds of desperate job seekers impatiently waiting to be interviewed in hotel rooms, can be sad affairs. Other conferences can be enjoyable and friendly get-togethers. One of the many advantages of an academic job is attending regular professional gatherings.
Conferences provide an excuse to travel (and cancel class), and a few departments still support faculty members (and occasionally graduate students) to attend. An academic conference’s stated objective is to provide a venue for researchers to present and critique research. On the other hand, the emptiness of academia is rarely more visibly displayed than at an academic conference.
An academic conference must appear to the casual spectator to be one of the oddest of modern rites. Speakers read aloud to an audience at several sessions to share their findings. Someone who has sat through a full day of sessions has spent five or six hours listening to people read.
How attentive do you think the audience members are? They sit respectfully and at least pretend to attend because they want others to pay the same courtesy to them when it’s their turn to stand up and read aloud.
During question time, a few sparks ignite, which can be mean-spirited or (less frequently) instructive, but decorous dullness is usually the order of the day. The true goal of the conference is to give speakers another line to add to their CVsC.V.s, which they must do regularly.
Before enrolling in graduate school:
- Go to an academic conference on the topic that fascinates you.
- Sit in on a few sessions.
- Ask yourself if it still impacts you.
While you’re there, observe the participants looking for a job to get a sense of their nervousness. Every conference is a meeting of competitors for them.
Rejection Is Routine
Everyone dislikes rejection, but it happens to everyone. It is a common occurrence among graduate students. Before you even begin, you are likely to feel the sting of rejection. You must pass the gate-keeping admissions process just to get into a graduate school.
You can be accepted to one program while being rejected from three others—and those rejections can stick with you longer than you think.
That, however, is merely the beginning.
Once you’ve started graduate school, you’ll be looking for fellowships, assistantships, scholarships, conferences, research awards, travel awards, and other forms of money. The purpose for those is not only to keep yourself afloat but also to pad your CV.
Some of those numerous applications will be turned down, and some rejections will be more painful than others. Furthermore, dreadful competition with your classmates will not help in any way.
Then there’s the issue of the publication. In the publishing industry, the vast majority of manuscripts submitted to publishers are rejected. You must, of course, publish in academics.
Academic publishing, unlike traditional publishing, is the result of the peer-review process. It entails the time-consuming submission of your work to the evaluation of (hopefully) independent experts who help editors decide whether your position is worthy of publication in an academic journal or as a book published by a university press.
Peer review is critical for maintaining the quality of published academic research, yet it might feel arbitrary, especially from the writer’s perspective. Academic writing is quite tricky, so it’s understandable if you’re discouraged when your work is rejected (as it will be).
After years of rejection as a graduate student, you enter the academic employment market, where rejections far exceed job offers. These are the expectations in an atmosphere where many people compete for the same opportunities. Also, this is bound to happen when there is an academic hierarchy predicated on exclusivity.
Courses, comprehensive or general exams (“comps” or “generals”), and the dissertation are the three essential components of American Ph.D. programs. Some programs contain a qualifying exam battery that comes before the comprehensive exam.
Moreover, master’s degree programs used to be more rigorous than they are now. Plus, their structure was similar to doctorate programs: courses, comps, and the master’s thesis; just a few master’s schools still require all three.
Exams are sometimes the least understood of the three components by prospective graduate students. Comprehensive exams are difficult to generalize because they are done widely from one department to the next, even within the same university.
In one program, you may be required to pass four five-hour written exams over many weeks. In another, you may be required to pass three six-hour tests over several days.
Furthermore, oral exams are usually given after written exams. In some programs, a substantial percentage of students fail these tests, and as a result, they are forced to stop their graduate studies. Faculty members in other schools will not allow students to take quizzes until they are confident they will pass. Comprehensive tests are designed to be daunting, regardless of their format or success rate.
Your classes should theoretically familiarize you with the critical works and issues in your discipline, and then exams should test your broad understanding of the field before you begin the dissertation (a focused study of a specific topic within your field).
On the other hand, your courses are not designed to help you prepare for your comprehensive exams.
The members of your faculty committee assign you an insane amount of reading on top of your courses and any employment duties you have as a research or teaching assistant. You are expected to read and “master” this scholarly literature to prepare for your tests.
Preparing for tests is often more difficult than actually taking them. Months of nervous anticipation and intense study are coupled with the anxiety of not knowing what information is most crucial to take away from your reading. Passing your comprehensive exams entitles you to “advance to candidacy” and the questionable title of ABD (all but dissertation).
The thrill of passing can quickly turn bittersweet because the exam process is taxing and has little similarity to what follows. Transitioning into the dissertation phase necessitates a startling shift from frantically consuming to furiously generating academic writing.
Many people lack the energy to finish a dissertation due to the nerve-wracking experience of passing comprehensive exams. Most people who drop out of doctorate programs do so after passing their comprehensive exams, and it’s reasonable to say. Even within the boundaries of academia, their ABD status doesn’t help them much.
Stipends Are Low
As part of a fellowship or assistantship from the school, students are paid a stipend. But what are grad school stipends exactly? These funds are intended to cover the student’s living expenses while researching or pursuing other educational goals. The length of the academic year, rather than the calendar year, may be used to determine stipend amounts.
Attending graduate school can feel like a full-time job between studying and working. Graduate students have advocated for a $31,000 minimum stipend to reflect this; $31,000 would equate to $15 per hour for someone working 40 hours per week for the entire year.
Many graduate students may be paid far less, however.
The most recent NCES statistics on average funding received by graduate students through assistantships is as follows:
- Non-education Ph.D. students: $18,800.
- Education doctoral students: $14,900.
- Other doctoral students: $17,900.
Getting paid to attend graduate school is a plus, but the amount you are born with is usually a disadvantage. Graduate assistantship stipends are insufficient to support a family. You’ll most likely earn less than your non-graduate school friends as they advance in their careers. Graduate stipends might be as low as $14,000 per year in reality.
It Can Be Lonely
You spend much time alone in graduate school. The majority of academic work is done in isolation. Studying, research, and writing, as well as the dreadful grind of grading, are all time-consuming solitary pursuits.
Graduate students’ desire for a sense of community is likely what draws them to coffee shops, where they linger for hours in uncomfortable seats, slumped over their laptops or piles of ungraded papers. They can be in the company of students who are lonely as they are, at least for a while.
Graduate school is isolating. Aside from being its nature, it is also because it separates people from those around them.
New graduate students are surprised to find that there is no intellectual community to help them cope with the effects of their unusual status on campus and in the wider world.
They don’t fit in with the undergraduates or academics who surround them. Moreover, their relative poverty significantly limits what they can do with people who have regular jobs and money. Outside of academia, friends and family members are uninterested in graduate school problems and accomplishments.
On the other hand, graduate students are so preoccupied with their work that they have little time or desire to help one another. Loneliness may be the single most challenging component of graduate school.
When undertaking solo study as a graduate student, emotions of loneliness can seep in despite the camaraderie you may feel with your peers.
It Narrows Your Options
It can be challenging to embrace the fact that there is such a thing as too much formal education since we have become so accustomed to the assumption that more education equals more work opportunities.
There is a moment of diminishing returns, just like anything else. Graduate school begins to limit your options after a while.
Working on a Ph.D. takes so long and educates you for a specific field of work that can leave you unprepared for employment outside of academia. Most employers are less interested in a 35-year-old Ph.D. than a 25-year-old with a few years of relevant work experience. The term “overqualified” is generally merely a fancy way of stating “unqualified.”
Furthermore, many graduate programs have policies prohibiting graduate students from working outside the classroom.
At first look, the logic behind it appears sound: graduate students are supposed to be honing their skills, which includes working on a dissertation and teaching. Ideally, they should be free of distractions while doing this.
It’s impossible to believe that graduate school is too simple, so logically, faculty members would want to ensure that their students have the resources they require to succeed. However, many faculty members, particularly those in the humanities, believe that working outside of academia is incompatible with the goal of graduate school, which is to prepare people for tenure-track positions and, subsequently, professorships.
Outside work does not contribute to that aim in a tangible sense, so it is frequently viewed as a waste of time. Worse, it may imply that the student isn’t committed to their education.
These issues appear to be valid grounds for ensuring that students are not overburden with work outside of their teaching and dissertation.
In practice, however, such constraints are increasingly ineffective for graduate students and departments. They no longer reflect the reality of many graduate students’ careers and financial situations. Whether departments want to recognize it or not, graduate education is changing, and the only way to help their students is to adapt to that reality.
The notion is that graduate students should focus entirely on their dissertations, and teaching is fantasy at its most fundamental level. Students’ personal life, families, interests, and other difficulties will obstruct their writing and learning.
If a student gets a tenure-track job, none of this goes away. If anything, service commitments, several courses, and, of course, having a life will increase the number of conflicting demands for attention. Students do not belong in hermetically sealed work environments, and they should not. It is preferable to prepare them for the realities of juggling work and to match their future working situations.
Cutting out graduate students from outside sources of income is also costly and unnecessary. Today’s students, on average, have fewer financial resources to help them get through graduate school. And everyone knows far too many people who have discussed selling plasma and relying on food stamps to be comfortable with the thought of surviving on small graduation stipends.
Wealthier students who can afford to be financed by a partner or family members benefit from this mentality at the expense of others who cannot.
Outside employment is a chance to develop career paths outside of academia seriously, in addition to the cash aspect. While professional societies try to develop programs to assist graduate students in finding work outside of academia, such programs can only be of limited use if their focus is on workshops to help students develop résumés and provide informational interviews.
The most significant impediment to outside employment is a lack of practical experience: businesses outside academia are wary of recruiting humanities graduates, in part because they have typically only worked in academic institutions. Outside work builds abilities that may be useful in non-university settings and shows an employer that the student is interested in working outside of higher education in the first place.
Employment outside of academia provides experience and creates a network that graduate students may tap into. Outside of higher education, graduate programs rarely offer many networking chances.
Many faculty members said that postgraduate students searching for work in diverse industries should tap into their networks, but many of them don’t have an extensive network of college friends who can serve as springboards into those fields.
Students will need to build networks more often than not, and one of the best ways to do so is through work.
Furthermore, based on what the rest of the world has seen and heard, these norms are not routinely followed. If anything, some graduate programs have an unspoken understanding that students can work on the side but are not supposed to admit it.
Moonlighting is acceptable if it is done in secret, but no one gains from this strategy. It’s even more challenging to do so effectively when you have to work in secret; interested students can’t talk about it. Moreover, it restricts the amount of networking that students are allowed to undertake.
If you want to be an assistant professor but don’t get one right out of graduate school, you’ll have to join the army of post-doctoral researchers (postdocs) and adjuncts. It will make you bounce around from one temporary employment to the next until someone employs you for a semi-permanent position.
And it’s unlikely that you’ll be hired as an assistant professor right after graduation. You’ll almost certainly have to work as an adjunct in academic purgatory, where the compensation is inadequate, and the work is insecure, making it difficult to make ends meet.
Almost every institution of human existence has been structured according to a schedule since the Industrial Revolution because it is widely accepted that productivity and efficiency are difficult to sustain without one. When we have to meet the expectations of others (such as a boss), we are more disciplined than when we are left to our own devices.
The graduate school does have its share of scheduled obligations, such as the forty-hour workweek, eight-hour workday, and half-hour lunch, which are not often part of a graduate student’s routine. However, the lack of a clock presents the issue of unstructured time.
It would help if you balanced your regular duties (courses you are attending, lessons you are teaching, grading) with the enormously time-consuming reading, researching, and writing tasks that have no predetermined schedules. This is why graduate school necessitates a high level of self-discipline that most people lack.
Modern civilization’s structure (with all of its flaws) reveals something about human nature.
If you aren’t a natural at managing unstructured time, don’t give up. You are only human. However, graduate school is a solitary endeavor. It has the potential to eat up ten years of your life. Consider whether you’d do better in a collaborative environment with precise deadlines and expectations.
As An Institution, the Academe Is Built On Pride
A cynic may argue that while the rest of the Western world is driven by greed, academia is driven by pride. And, at least according to the Bible, pride is worse than greed; pride was the devil’s original sin.
People who consider themselves to be smart abound in academia. Applied intelligence is frequently rewarded financially in the “real world,” but people who choose to spend their lives in higher education are unlikely to become millionaires.
Plus, most of the most competent people are somewhere else. Intelligent people do not allow themselves to lose money.
On the other hand, some graduate students, especially the privileged ones, are unlikely to consider how much money they are “spending” by not working for many years. Even individuals paid as T.A.s and receive tuition waivers are lucky if they make enough to scrape by.
Medical and legal students pay a fortune for their education, but they get valuable experience and know that they will most likely earn enough money to pay off their debt in a fair amount of time. Those who work in the humanities have no guarantee of getting a career that will allow them to pay off their debt.
Furthermore, academics tell themselves that they have forgotten the pecuniary advantages that would have come with another field of work, and they are almost certainly correct. They tend to measure their self-worth in terms of intellectual grandeur rather than monetary accomplishments.
Some academics try to support their argument with a never-ending stream of publications. However, the majority, at the very least, come to terms with their brilliance. But pride is quickly shattered.
Universities are home to significant percentages of people who think highly of themselves yet are not wealthy, and have two particularly detrimental effects.
The first is that universities foster situations where people are readily offended and quick to defend their position. The second is that campuses are infected with a nagging sense of resentment among students who believe their abilities have been undervalued.
Your Pedigree Counts
It matters where you get your degree. It’s challenging to find an American professor who does not publicly support egalitarian ideas and believes in equal opportunity, but the academia is not a level playing field.
If you graduate from Harvard, you will have an easier time getting into graduate programs and landing a career in academia than if you graduated from Cornell. If you are a Cornell graduate, you will have an easier time than a Notre Dame graduate. If you graduate from Notre Dame, you will be in a better position than if you graduated from UC Davis.
This is accurate whether you are pursuing a Ph.D. or a master’s degree. The university’s reputation in question may or may not have anything to do with the actual quality of graduate programs.
Sometimes pride comes in seeing things clearly, yet the academic hierarchy is ruthless and rigid. The various magazine rankings reflect a reality that existed long before the rankings were published. The ramifications of this hierarchy are tangible.
And it doesn’t stop there. Some jobs necessitate not only a degree but a degree from the appropriate university. Second-tier schools, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, will not suffice.
Here’s what students should do if they want to work for the most significant legal company, investment bank, or consultancy:
Attend Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (perhaps) Stanford University. If you’re a business student, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School will suffice but don’t show up with a Dartmouth or MIT certificate. Nobody cares about those locations.
Don’t try to get a 4.0 by working your tail off. It’s preferable to graduate with a 3.7 GPA and a slew of great extracurricular activities. And when they say “truly fantastic,” they don’t just mean climbing Everest or earning an Olympic medal. Intramurals aren’t going to cut it.
It may shock many, but yes, the most elite companies sometimes disregard graduates from MIT!
The Academic Bubble May Burst
The term “bubble” is now widely used to denote an asset that has been irrationally and unnaturally overpriced and cannot be sustained. Recently, the overextended housing market crashed, contributing to a credit crisis.
The market has lost more than 30% of its value in the last year, as the value of companies that were formerly considered flagship investments has declined.
Is it possible that the next bubble to burst will be in higher education? It’s possible, based on some early indications.
Tuition, fees, and room and board at hundreds of universities have already topped $35,720 per year, making private higher education unaffordable for everyone except the wealthiest.
According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the average college tuition and fees have increased by 440%, which is more than four times the rate of inflation and nearly twice the rate of medical care.
Meanwhile, the middle class, which has traditionally paid for higher education primarily through loans, may be unable to do so now that the private student-loan market has all but dried up.
Furthermore, endowment cushions that permitted institutions to offer significant tuition discounts are no longer available. House prices are falling, making it more difficult for families to use home equity loans to pay for college. Even when the equity is present, parents are hesitant to take on more debt in the face of uncertain job stability.
Consumers who previously questioned whether it was worthwhile to spend $1,000 per square foot on a property are now debating whether it is beneficial to pay $1,000 per week to send their children to college. There is a growing popular perception that higher education is pricey and underperforming.
It’s no surprise that applications to some community colleges and other public schools have increased by as much as 40% in this environment. Those institutions, particularly community colleges, will become more appealing to a broader range of college-bound students.
Since the 1920s, doing the first two years of college while living at home has been a popular choice, but it is now poised to become even more popular.
Is it possible that the situation for colleges may deteriorate in the future years? Over the next decade, the number of college-aged students in the “baby-boom echo,” which peaked with this year’s high-school senior class, will fall. Some Great Plains and Northeastern states may lose 10% of their 12th-graders who are college-bound.
Education expenditures cannot continue to eat up an ever-increasing portion of middle-class wages indefinitely. People will eventually conclude that a college degree is no longer worth the expensive price tag. Plus, colleges accustomed to yearly increases in tuition money will be obliged to make significant changes if a large enough percentage of the community believes it has reached that threshold.
Changing economic conditions put all colleges at risk. For individuals looking for work in academia, there are already too few openings.
It Necessitates a Great Deal of Self-control
College is not the same as graduate school. Perhaps a large number of people go to graduate school on the misguided belief that it is.
In college, you follow a well-organized schedule of classes from one term to the next, each with a beginning and an end, punctuated by mid-term and final tests, as well as regular paper tasks. While other students march through similar routines around you, you follow a prescribed class schedule from day to day until you take your last final exam in your previous class and walk away with your diploma.
Graduate programs in the United States begin with coursework, although graduate classes differ from undergraduate lectures in many ways and can be pretty disappointing in comparison.
Because the classes are smaller in this setting, the sense of shared experience is diminished right away as you begin to prepare for your comprehensive examinations in isolation; that mutual sense vanishes. If you pass those examinations, you’ll be isolated for the rest of your life.
Imagine being told, “Write a book.” This isn’t just any book; a thesis or dissertation is the culmination of extensive research and the most challenging type of writing: academic writing.
You must report this book while meeting your primary responsibilities (such as paying electricity), fulfilling your duties as a teaching or research assistant (which allows you to pay for the electricity), and meeting the expectations of potential future employers by adding as many lines to your resume as possible.
If your department does not provide financing, you will have to find another work or go into debt while conducting research and writing. You are, for all intents, on your own during this process. However, as stated above, many graduate studies departments deter students from working outside their fields.
Some people are good at juggling many duties and unstructured time, but graduate school attrition rates show some aren’t. Given how long most individuals take to finish, it’s probably reasonable to say that the majority of people aren’t.
There’s an Over Abundance of PhDs
There aren’t enough schools, institutions, departments, or programs to go around. Consequently, there isn’t enough employment in academia. There are far too many.
The issue is that the quantity of open positions outnumbers the number of persons who apply for them. Despite the ludicrous degree to which it has absorbed them into occupations that have nothing to do with traditional research and teaching, there are just too many PhDs created each year for the higher education establishment to swallow them all.
Colleges are employing Doctors of Philosophy to oversee their dorms, alumni associations, and police forces.
Colleges benefit from this situation because many qualified people are looking for teaching jobs and are willing to labor for very little pay. It could be less of an issue if Ph.D. holders were in more demand outside of academia. It doesn’t explain why so many doctorates are now employed in part-time, non-benefitting teaching jobs.
According to the AAUP or American Association of University Professors, the situation is as follows:
In sum, graduate student employees and faculty members on contingent appointments currently account for more than 75% of the instructional workforce. Part-time faculty members experienced the most remarkable dramatic rise, with their numbers increasing by more than 280 percent between 1975 and 2009.
The number of full-time non-tenure-track faculty members and part-time faculty members increased by at least 6% between 2007 and 2009. Tenured posts climbed by only 2.4 percent during the same period, while tenure-track appointments increased by only 0.3 percent. These increases in professor appointments occurred against a 12 percent increase in higher education enrollment over two years.
Meanwhile, the number of persons vying for these positions continues to grow. According to The National Science Foundation, 49,562 persons in the United States received doctorates in 2009. This was the highest ever reported number till this day.
The majority of the growth occurred in the sciences and engineering during the preceding decade, but the NSF report noticed a particularly bleak statistic for individuals who obtained a Ph.D. in the humanities.
Furthermore, only 62.6 percent had a “definite commitment” for any form of work. Remember that people who have already made it through programs with high attrition rates confront similar challenges; more than half of those who begin Ph.D. programs in the humanities do not complete them.
The Ph.D. has become devalued as a result of its widespread availability. While students in traditional Ph.D. programs at research universities are increasingly taking up to a decade to complete their programs due to the labor demands of their teaching positions, others are obtaining certified PhDs online in a matter of months.
These degrees may not carry much weight in the academic hierarchy, but they increase the number of people who call themselves “doctors.” You may not believe that illegal universities or “diploma mills” constitute a substantial danger to the integrity of degrees. However, consider that hundreds of federal government officials have purchased fraudulent degrees and used them to gain promotions and high-level posts.
Perhaps most shocking is what respectable research universities have done to devalue the Ph.D., which is now conferred in subjects as diverse as hotel management, entertainment, and (ironically) higher education administration. Meanwhile, colleges continue to decrease graduate degree standards.
The conventional American master’s degree, which historically required at least two years of study, passing written and oral comprehensive exams, and the creation and defense of a more substantial thesis than many of today’s doctoral dissertations, has been drastically reduced. Will doctorate education meet the same fate?
Graduate students are taking longer and longer to get degrees that are becoming increasingly worthless. And, even though popular culture is progressively mocking them, they are greeted with a job market with little to offer them after the years of investment required to get those degrees.
Degrees Go Stale
At the very conclusion of the long route through graduate school, one of the cruelest twists occurs. When you conclude a doctoral program that took a decade or more to complete, your new degree starts to age quickly. Doctorates, like ale, get stale after a while.
If you have a Ph.D. from more than a couple of years ago and are still looking for a tenure-track position, your degree is considered “stale.” Suppose you don’t have a tenure-track job within a year of completing your Ph.D.; your prospects of ever getting one start to dwindle. Knowledge can rapidly become outdated, but that is not the case here.
The issue originates from an excess of PhDs being produced. Abolishing the stale PhDs from the pool of applicants is an easy method to cull the herd in an age when universities receive hundreds of applications for one job position. Hiring committees defend this by claiming that something is wrong with you if you haven’t been employed on the job market for a long time.
Because the optimum window for acquiring an assistant professorship is in the months leading up to your dissertation defense, finishing your Ph.D. can put you at a disadvantage in the job market. Perhaps the biggest motivator to complete a Ph.D. is the deadline that comes with a job offer.
Some job postings now require applicants to be “new” or “recent” Ph.D. recipients to prevent persons with outdated degrees from applying. Keep in mind that working as a non-tenure-track faculty member will not keep your degree fresh.
No matter how much professional experience you get after completing your doctorate, the endless supply of new and relatively inexperienced PhDs and ABDs who enter the job market after you are always your strongest competitor for academic jobs.
Experience might work against you in academia.
Your Family is at Stake
For women who are deeply interested in pursuing graduate study, the idea of raising kids is usually less of a priority. It’s hard to mix parenting and graduate study. Similarly, being the kid of a graduate student is challenging for the same reasons that being married to a grad student is stressful.
Graduate school responsibilities are complex for both parents and children. School debt, job insecurity, and relocations are often part of the package.
Unsurprisingly, roughly 37% of women studying for a graduate or professional degree are childless. Childless men are not rare, either.
Whether or not you have children, you are a family member—but even that may need to take a back seat. Your grad school life can be so overwhelming with all its demands! Your family might have encouraged you to pursue grad school with all the best intentions, but little do they know they’re pushing you away from them.
It makes little difference where you live now or where you go to graduate school; the few jobs available at the end of the graduate school pipeline will rarely be near your home! Also, obtaining a Ph.D. takes such a long time that, even if you were lucky and snagged a big job, you’d wish you enjoyed it sooner with your family.
The Ph.D. life may be just as taxing on your loved ones as it is on you.
Being A Professor Is Becoming Less And Less Rewarding
The majority of graduate students enrolled in Ph.D. programs aspire to become professors. But if some studies are to be believed, teaching as a profession is getting less and less attractive these days.
Anyone who has been in a college lecture hall can attest to the fact that, while some students pay attention, many are glued to their phones looking at social media or playing video games, with their minds apparently miles away. All these are distracting frustrating scenarios for a teacher.
It wasn’t long ago that an instructor would easily call out this type of behavior. Today, it can be difficult to compete with technology for undivided attention. And as tuitions rise and students overpay for the privilege, students these days act like customers who should be served. They spend their time in your classroom any way they want.
With students constantly showing disinterest in class, can you imagine how even more challenging it is for graduate-student instructors or teaching assistants?
And then there’s the onerous task of grading your students. An eye-opening graph by the New York Times depicted grade inflation over the last few decades.
Apparently, education has moved toward a system in which everyone gets good grades. In 2012, 43% of all college grades were As, and even today, giving a low-grade tantamount to dealing with a disappointed client. It’s hard for professors not to notice the culture of entitlement of students in this respect.
But whose work are you grading, really? It appears that some undergraduates are ready to pay for expensive education while plagiarizing other people’s work and submitting them as their own. As a graduate student instructor, adjunct instructor, or junior faculty member, your job security is contingent on positive student assessments.
For American college or university teachers who conduct 50 to 100 evaluations every 10 or 15 weeks, finding plagiarized or mediocre work can be incredibly disheartening.
How can you keep your students involved as a classroom instructor in this age of distraction? You have to entertain them in some way or another. (How many jobs do you think this happens in?) It’s not difficult to find out what causes grade inflation.
And then there’s that constant desire for approval from students. They will anonymously rate your performance and your job is on the line.
Moreover, graduate students are being asked to do more teaching and grading. These responsibilities cut into the time you have to accomplish your academic work, lengthening your time to graduation. Of course, most graduate students aspire to teach at the college level, even if they had other objectives when they started their programs.
These are what you can expect in a modern college classroom, whether you are fortunate enough to land a tenure-track position or find yourself working as an adjunct. Before enrolling in graduate school, sit in the back of a lecture hall and think about it.